A well-crafted video project put together by two Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) students – Forest Zabriskie and Mason Redfield – for a recent class assignment.
To gather varied perspectives on the utilization of the Connecticut River – specifically the circa 1909 Vernon dam at the Great Bend in Sokwakik – they interviewed Matthew Cole, Community Relations for Great River Hydro (dam owner and operator); Kathy Urffer, River Steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy; and yours truly, for an Abenaki cultural viewpoint.
There are many ways to be in the world…
The second month of the Abenaki annual cycle has begun. The new moon following Alamikos (also known as Anhaldamawikizos) occurred on February 4, 2019 here in Sokwakik. In Western Abenaki, Pia8dagos means “makes branches fall into pieces” or ‘falling in pieces branches maker.” Last night’s windstorm made the reasoning abundantly clear.
Dr. C.W. Grau area map, circa 1860 from Old Maps
Charles William Grau was a noted physician first at Brattleboro’s Wesselhoeft Water-Cure (1848), followed by the Lawrence Water-Cure (1853), and later in private practice. A key ingredient of his naturopathic treatment regimen was extensive outdoor exposure, in the form of walks, and drives. To encourage and facilitate the practice, he became a skilled cartographer, preparing detailed maps of nearby paths, roads, and scenic features for devotees.
On his large area map, there is a dotted line going north-south, connecting Western Avenue with Asylum Street, and intersecting the latter between the Retreat proper and the Retreat Farm. Just a trail or footpath at the time, this was to become today’s Cedar Street. Upon the area immediately south of the Farm and west of the Retreat is a two-word legend cryptically stating “Gypsy Grounds.” This is the land at the base of Harris Hill Ski Jump, still a cleared field surrounded by forest and relatively undisturbed except for the looming jump ramp.
While there were a number of Romanichal (an Anglo-Romani subgroup from the British Isles) in North America at the time – most of them deported here unwillingly – “gypsy” was a term applied generally to anyone with a perceived migratory lifestyle. Most of the better-known Eastern European Romani emigrated to the US later in the 1800’s, primarily to urban areas. In Vermont, sociologists agree that the term “gypsy” was often a reference to the indigenous Abenaki and their kin, some of whom adopted an intinerant peddler version of their annual subsistence cycles. Returning to their traditional homelands in family groups with horse-drawn wagons, they sold baskets and woodenware, worked as day laborers, offered herbal treatments, and hunted and gathered as had their ancestors in the self-same places.
Dr. Grau’s 1860 “Gypsy Grounds” was and is one of these places. There are a number of historical newspaper accounts of gypsy visitations to Brattleboro in the 19th century, focusing on several specific localities. The area around the Retreat Farm and Meadows is documented as a known pre-European-Contact settlement site. The developing onslaught of war and colonization made sustainable Abenaki continuance untenable, driving the people and their culture out of sight and often far away. But the descendants of those forced off the land remembered their ties to the homelands and would return as they were able, living on the fringes of the growing towns and conducting their own affairs in a radically-changed social landscape. And those descendants are still here in Vermont, reclaiming their stories and reaffirming their connections to the land, at the place called Wantastegok and now known as Brattleboro.
I was asked to speak at this event last Sunday, Feb. 13, 2019, at the Putney Community Center on Christian Square (slight irony) in Putney, VT. Super turnout – maybe 80-100 people? There may be video coverage on BCTV at some point soon; my friend Russ was there filming…
Link to a pdf of the poster here: putney mt association 2019 poster
“Here We Are” is a weekly half-hour talk show (interview/conversation) on Brattleboro Community Television, conceived and hosted by Wendy O’Connell. Wendy interviewed me in early December and the show is now post-production and was released for airing and on Youtube on Dec. 31, 2018. Wliwni Wendy!
Askwa nd’aoldibna iodali – we are still here.
BCTV link here.
Youtube link here.
Sketch of “Indian Rock” at the mouth of the West River, by a young Larkin Mead, later a nationally-known sculptor.
The Brattleboro Historical Society has begun submitting a regular feature to the local Brattleboro Reformer daily. This week’s column takes a look at the misrepresentation of established Native presence in the state’s long-mythologized history books, and offers some corrections of perspective into the present. I was able to help contribute to this welcome piece by the Society.
Full article here, excerpt below:
In 1828 the Brattleboro publishing company of Holbrook and Fessenden produced “A History of Vermont: From Its First Settlement to the Present Time.” It was the first known Vermont History book used in Brattleboro schools.
When writing about the “native inhabitants,” author Francis Eastman wrote, “not a vestige of them now remains – gradually the encroachments of the whites have pushed them farther and farther on” to the west and north of the United States and Canada.
In many early histories of Vermont, Native Americans were hardly mentioned. A Vermont school book used from 1890 to 1925 starts this way, “Very few Indians lived in Vermont when white men first came here, though hunting parties and war parties often passed through, and sometimes a party would camp all summer in a good place.” You can see that early history books did not give Native Americans much claim to Vermont…
Episode 2 with Olga Peters on her Green Mountain Mornings show at Brattleboro’s WKVT radio (100.3 FM & 1490 AM). This is the second in a series of Sokoki Sojourn: Live on the air. We will explore Sokoki-inspired topics over a broad range of interests (mostly local, but occasionally further afield) including historical, linguistic, geographic, contemporary, political, cultural… (it’s all cultural…)
December 20, 2018: In Abenaki, the Winter Solstice is known as “Peboniwi t8ni kizos wazwasa” or “In winter when the sun returns to the same place.” Rich Holschuh shares the deeper meaning of these phrases. He also helps anchor the sense of place that is Brattleboro (Wantastegok).
Podcast here (thank you Olga!).